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Diplomacy in Action

Blogger Roundtable with Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization Robert Loftis on S/CRS Efforts in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyz Republic

Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization Robert Loftis
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
February 9, 2011


OPERATOR:  Welcome and thank you for standing by.  At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode.  During the question-and-answer session, if you’d like to ask a question you may press * then 1.  I will now turn the call over to Ms. Heide Fulton.  Ma’am, you may begin.

MS. FULTON:   Hello, good morning.  Thank you for joining us.  Today, the Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization released its 2010 Year in Review document.  This is a publication that discusses the 2010 conflict prevention and stabilization efforts of the Department in countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic, and other activities of S/CRS and the Civilian Response Corps.

In order to describe some of these activities in greater detail and take your questions, we are fortunate to have with us today Ambassador Robert Loftis, who is the Acting Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.  So I’d like to turn it over to him to make a statement, and then after that we’ll take your questions.

Thank you.  Ambassador Loftis.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  Thanks very much for being here.  I just want to just make a couple of brief introductory comments and then we’ll open it up to questions.

I think you probably know that the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization was created in 2004 to help the United States better respond to crisis, and just as importantly to prevent violent conflict from developing, using personnel from across our civilian federal agencies.  The work of this office has been very much on the rise as a result of global instability, and this is just – the creation of this office is just one sign that the United States Government regards responding to and preventing violent conflict as critical to protecting our national interest and wants to take a more systematic approach to dealing with it.

In 2010, it really saw a substantial growth in our activities.  We deployed personnel from both the headquarters and from the Civilian Response Corps to 28 posts overseas, including to such top national security priorities as Afghanistan and Sudan.

If I could describe our mission in four main parts, it’s to deploy civilian expertise to help countries at risk of, in, or coming out of violent conflict to find and implement their own solutions.  It’s to help the Department of State take a more systematic approach to conflict prevention.  It’s to provide the intellectual and logistical infrastructure that makes all of this possible, and we do all of this within the priorities set out by the President and the Secretary.  Our model allows us to take expertise from across the government and to ensure a better unity of effort across actors in Washington and overseas.

I’ll give you just one really good example.  Oliver Fischer, a member of the Civilian Response Corps from the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, who was sent out to Sudan.  And he originally went out to crunch the numbers that were used to develop the baseline for determining how many people needed to vote to make this into a valid referendum on self-determination.  They just didn’t have that information or the way to put it together.

And then once he had done that, we sent him out to a number of remote villages in Jonglei State in the eastern part of the country where he worked with local officials, the UN and others, to help resolve any of the registration and voting issues that came up, making sure that registration materials were delivered on time, that if there were issues that were coming up between potential voters and the registration officials that they got resolved. 

And then after that, he reused those contacts to work as, essentially, a peacemaker.  And one of the areas he did was to help broker an agreement between two groups that were involved in cattle raiding that was spiraling out of control and where a number of people were killed, and he helped the local government bring these two groups together so that they would broker their own peace agreement, and then help making sure that that did not have an impact on the referendum or the results of the referendum.

So that’s just one example of how we deploy well beyond our normal diplomatic environments.  We build relationships with local leaders and really help them identify where we can be of assistance in their efforts to bring peace and stability to their communities.  Oliver is a great example of how we bring people in from different parts of the government.  We have people from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, for example, doing similar types of things.

We’re also really focusing a lot more effort on trying to identify where we can help prevent violent conflict before it gets off the ground.  And we have a tool we call the Interagency Conflict Assessment Framework that we use to work with embassies to try and identify what are the key drivers of conflict and where are the resiliencies within a country that we might help promote that would keep these conflicts from spiraling upwards.

So if you’ve taken a look at the QDDR, you can see how these are areas that the Secretary of State is putting a lot of emphasis on, particularly on promoting the use of civilian power and making conflict prevention into a core mission for the Department of State, for USAID, and for the Foreign Service.  And these are areas that, clearly, we think we have something to contribute to, that we have been contributing to, and that we’re looking forward to working with the Secretary and the leadership to make this even more effective for the U.S.

So with that, Heide, I think I’ll stop there and open it up to questions and see what our bloggers are interested in.

MS. FULTON:  Okay, great.  Operator, I think we’re ready to take questions.

OPERATOR:   Steve Clemons, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  This is Steve Clemons from the Washington Note.  I’ve been writing a bit about the organizational changes with the QDDR and how S/CRS is going to evolve in that structure.  And I’d be interested to hear  what do you see as far as an administrative function in terms of how S/CRS is evolving?  Are you going to keep your identity?  Are there real costs to what you are doing in this new bureau that’s being created?

And one of the things Hillary Clinton said when I asked her about it when the release was done is that there was going to be a kind of reassertion of the State Department’s statutory authority in a lot of these conflict or pre-conflict areas, and to some degree, S/CRS was going to be a vital part of that, or the new bureau is going to be a vital part of that.  So anything you can share on how you’re adjusting and how this new structure is evolving would be really helpful.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  Great question.  The Secretary is putting together instructions on how she wants to proceed with the implementation of all of the recommendations that are coming out of the QDDR, and we’re part of that.  But as it makes clear, there will be a realignment within this new Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, where the new Conflict and Stabilization Operations Bureau will be grouped with Population, Refugees, and Migration, with Democracy and Human Rights, with International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and with War Crimes Issues.  And the idea is to bring all of these operational, if you will, bureaus together so that there’s a better coordination among them, and how we support the regional bureaus and, most importantly, supporting our chiefs of mission in the field. 

There will be a lot of – what we’re looking at in terms of putting S/CRS into this new bureau is looking at our current structures and what we – how do we better organize ourselves to support that mission in the field.  I don’t think, in terms of what we do will dramatically change because the QDDR in many ways says we need to make this an institutional part of what we do, and we need to make it much broader within the Department as a whole.  But our ability to work more closely with these other bureaus, our ability to work more closely with the regional bureaus who have the policy lead on these issues, and most importantly, I think, what we’re working on is really supporting the chief of mission as the chief executive officer for all U.S. federal agencies in a country.  Working with them, as people who are trained up who not only bring their expertise in their particular line of work but also understand how to work in a foreign environment and how to work within that chief of mission authority, I think, will be critical. 

So in my view, I think this is a great outcome.  I think putting us part of this, making this much more permanent, I think is a great outcome and I think it really reflects well on the work the people have done over the last several years. 

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up very quickly?  I know your budget was under pressure lately.  For a while, S/CRS was the fastest-growing item in the State Department’s budget.  Can you comment at all on how prospects look?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  Well, all the budgets are under pressure.  Quite frankly, it sort of depends on where Congress comes out in the next few weeks in terms of looking ahead for the remainder of 2011.  And at this point, it’s hard to say.  If we end up somewhere where we were at the end of last year, I think we’ll be okay. 

But I think the critical point is that this is a very smart use of scarce resources.  I mean, it’s a reserve. It allows the U.S. Government to intervene in ways that are very much more cost effective.  And if we lose that ability, I think we’ll lose that flexibility.  It’s – we’re not going to grow hugely fast, but we certainly can’t afford to lose what we’ve got.

QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Emily Cadei, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, Ambassador.  I was hoping you could talk to me a little bit about the next steps in Sudan coming this year as we get ready for this two-state solution, as it were, in the region.  Do you guys expect to have a long-term presence on the ground in both North and South Sudan going forward?

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  We are in the midst of what we’re calling Phase Two of our deployment into Southern Sudan right now.  We have 23 people in Southern Sudan and we have another two in Khartoum.  And within the next couple of days, we’ll have another two people into Southern Sudan as well.  What we’ve been working on – the first part of our effort in Southern Sudan was just simply building up the platform at our consulate general in Juba because it was too small to support the totality of our diplomatic efforts there.  That’s been largely completed and that will be turned over to the Bureau for African Affairs as that consulate general turns into a full-fledged embassy with the independence of Southern Sudan.  And what that’s allowed us to do is then to push people out into the state capitals. 

What we focused on for the first part of this was sending teams of two to three people out for three to five days, flying to – primarily, we focused on five state capitals in Southern Sudan.  The first several months that they were there, leading up to the referendum, most of what they worked on was monitoring and assisting in the registration and then the referendum itself, the normal sort of election observance that we do around the world.  But while they were out there, they were also building a lot of contacts with local governors, with county commissioners, with church groups and others.  And we’ve – really shifted our focus now, for the next several months, at least through July of 2011, to not just being the reporting side of what’s going on but also working with USAID and others on helping to prevent conflict at the local level, whether it’s between two tribal groups that have a dispute over watering rights, whether it’s anything of that nature.  And we’ve had people who’ve been very instrumental in working on that, the idea being that there’s still a great deal of fragility in the euphoria of the referendum that – don’t forget that they are – leading up to this, there was a lot of South-on-South violence.

And then what we’ll have arriving in country, literally this week and next, are a number of containerized living and working spaces that we’re putting out in these places so that our teams will not be limited to staying for three to five days.  They’ll be living out there for the next six months, continuing on in this work.  Our anticipation is that we’re definitely committed through July of 2011, but our anticipation is that we will look beyond that, depending on the circumstances, for how long we would continue to stay to support this, but this would not be a permanent presence.  I mean, at some point, we do have to transition back to normal activities and the idea is that we’re not going to be there forever.

In the northern part of the country, of course, you know that the Administration has appointed Ambassador Dane Smith as senior advisor on working on the Darfur peace process.  And right now, we have an officer from our staff who is working to support him both here in Washington and on his travels the same way that we have been supporting Special Envoy Gration in his work and also Senior Advisor Ambassador Princeton Lyman on his work on North-South issues.

We’re now looking at what else would be required in the North, and that’s part of a larger policy decision on what’s the best way to support that – the Darfur peace process.

OPERATOR:  Steve Clemons , your line is open.

QUESTION:  I’d like to ask a slightly unfair or uncomfortable question.  Anne-Marie Slaughter recently talked at the New America Foundation.  She talked very much in the same terms about the Chiefs of Missions being the CEOs in the field and of the various skill sets the Department is bringing together along with country experience and how these various functional groups would fuel that.  She also talked about promotions at State being increasingly a function of interagency experience.  What would this say in terms of the eventual appointment of an ambassador?  Should you have more commitment to making sure you’ve got people that have these broad experiences?

I was essentially seeing if she had a critique of appointing donors and political types to these ambassador positions because some of the front lines are so complicated.  Her response was that these CEOs and people who have private experience bring a lot to the table, and their sharing of skill sets with others can be just as important in the process. 

I find myself doubtful that many of our ambassadors appointed from the political sector have that kind of broad experience technically with the kinds of things you’re talking about.  I’ve seen people like John Roos in Japan, who hadn’t been to Japan before, do a good job – an adequate job – but I’m not sure it would be along the lines technically.

It seems that we are putting a lot of expectation on these CEOs in forward-based missions.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  You’re right, that is an uncomfortable question, and I admire your pluck in asking me to go ahead over Anne-Marie Slaughter, but – the reality is that it is up to the President to appoint whomever he or she wants as their personal representative in a country.  And I know there have been calls from the – I think it’s the American Academy of Diplomacy and others that that not take place.  I don't know that that’s a realistic call, and having worked over the course of my career for both career and non-career ambassadors – I’ve worked for at least one non-career ambassador who was outstanding for the job – so it’s hard to make a blanket approval.

And even in those cases where somebody doesn’t have as much experience, part of it is also bringing people up through the Foreign Service, who bring that out and complement the characteristics that the ambassador has.  I think one of the things that Anne-Marie talked about in terms of the training for all ambassadors before they go to post in areas of conflict would be to go through some additional specialized training in this.  But at the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of the President to decide who he wants to be out there as his personal representative, and it’s hard for us to second guess that.

QUESTION:  Yeah, that’s great.  I appreciate the thoughtful response.  But it is something, I think, that people need to deal with up front because it will – it’s just a natural question.


MODERATOR:  Ambassador Loftis, I’d like to thank you very much for your time, and we really appreciate your insights today.  And thanks to the folks that joined us on the call today.  We will have a transcript of this posted online as soon as we can.  So thanks everybody.  We appreciate it.

AMBASSADOR LOFTIS:  Great.  Thank you.

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